With the recent Independence Day celebration of the principles of democracy, liberty, and justice for all, a new report by the ACLU of Kansas finds that voters in Kansas have wildly varied access to democracy across the state. 

Their report, “All Democracy is (Still) Local,” outlines the ways Kansans’ ability to exercise their right to vote is determined by local policies and practices resulting from decisions made by election officials in their respective counties.

“Without any change to current state law, Kansas election officials are fully authorized to strengthen democracy in their own counties,” said Micah Kubic, executive director of the ACLU of Kansas. “However, our report finds that many Kansas voters face long lines, inconvenient hours, or lack of information when it comes to casting a ballot.

What the report found is that no counties utilize the entire early voting period allowed by Kansas law; most counties offer very little flexibility in the hours when voting is available; and only 22 counties offer multiple early voting locations, with the majority instead undermining the convenience of early voting by requiring Kansas voters to drive to a further, singular location.

The ACLU completed a similar report in 2018, highlighting the relationship between voter turnout and local election administration policies. 

In the years since, in the counties with the most lagging voter turnout numbers in the 2018 midterm elections, local election officials have not utilized all the tools at their disposal to address low turnout. 

The five counties with the lowest rates of turnout in 2022 — Seward, Geary, Finney, Ford, Meade, and Wyandotte — are also home to populations proportionately more diverse than the rest of the state, with significantly larger communities of Latino, Black, Asian, and Native people than the rest of the state.

Here are the changes the report proposes: 

Increasing the early voting period and the actual number of days within the period.

The report found counties that started their early voting period 20 days before Election Day, the maximum length allowed by statute, had significantly higher turnout — 52.85% — compared to those with periods of 1-14 days, which saw an average of 49.52% turnout. However, even among the majority of counties that begin their early voting period 20 days before Election Day, there are only 14 actual days of early voting offered within that period.

The report estimates that if all counties were to maximize the early voting period so that they were open 18 days (every day except Sunday), at least 20,803 additional Kansas voters could participate — a potential 2% increase of the current turnout rate,

Increasing early voting access outside of business hours.

Most counties offer very little flexibility in the hours when voting is available; those that do have higher turnout: The overwhelming majority — 80% — of Kansas’s counties provide exactly zero hours of early voting outside of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. 

Increasing the number of early voting locations.

Counties with five or more early voting locations saw an average turnout rate of 53.19%, well above the state average.

Opening more Election Day locations for less crowded polls.

Many polling locations are overcrowded, and overcrowded polls are related to lower turnout rates. The counties with the least number of voters assigned to each poll, 1 to 499 voters, had an average turnout rate of a whopping 62.47%, compared to average turnout in the counties with more than 4,000 voters per poll: 36.27%.

Ensuring meaningful curbside voting at all polling locations.

Not all Kansas counties appear to meet the election standard of requiring curbside voting availability. Even among the 90 counties that reported they do have some form of curbside voting available, very few have visible signage and some require calling ahead to arrange it in advance. 

Informing voters of permanent advance voting status.

Providing voting materials in languages other than English.

Establishing a vote-from-jail program.

Since 1996, Bonita has served as as Editor-in-Chief of The Community Voice newspaper. As the owner, she has guided the Wichita-based publication’s growth in reach across the state of Kansas and into...